Colo. National Parks suffer government closures

National Parks in Colorado face substantial economic and environmental concerns after recent flooding and the government shutdown.

“This is a real double hit for Estes Park because it was devastated by the floods, closed for several weeks and access remains difficult and time consuming,” said Congressman Jared Polis.

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At this time, more than 80 percent of park staff has been furloughed, meaning they have been temporarily laid off without pay. Many of these employees had homes and property that were damaged by the flood and are lacking the means to overcome this, according to Meghan Trubee, Colorado senior campaign manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

Employees in gateway communities to national parks such as Estes Park and Grand Lake are also disadvantaged by the shutdown.

In past years, Estes Park’s tourism generated over a half a million dollars a day in visitor spending in October, according to Trubee.

“Every day that the parks are closed, it is pushing Estes Park even harder because they aren’t getting that economic return from all these people,” Trubee said.

If the closure of parks continues for an extended period of time, it is estimated that the residents of Estes Park could experience a loss of jobs for around 1,000 individuals, according to a study conducted by Martin Shields, director of the regional economics institute at CSU.

“The flood did most of the damage to the tourism industry and the shutdown eliminated what was still there,” Shields said.

While monetary issues are the focus for gateway communities, the impacts to the wildlife and environment of the national parks is a concern for the NPCA.

“We are concerned about our capacity for the park service to adequately protect wildlife when they are operating at so few staff,” said John Garder, director of budget and appropriations for the NPCA.

In the long term, there is a concern for what insufficient funds and staff means for the management of wildlife and resources within the parks. This includes issues with poaching, water quality and the health of ecosystems and habitats.

The insufficient budget and closure of all of the 11 national parks are issues that the parks, NPCA and supporting constituents are asking congress to improve.

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“What we’re doing is raising public attention, urging people to contact decision makers to have them reopen our federal government so our national parks can reopen and then provide them with a sustainable budget and ensuring they can be well managed,” Garder said.

Congressman Polis, said he would oppose efforts to slash the budget, but sees the budget as a secondary issue to the closure of the parks.

“It’s really important that we open our national parks as soon as possible to protect our jobs in Colorado,” Polis said.

The worry with this long term closure of parks is that it would negatively impact the entire economy of Colorado, expanding outward from the gateway communities.

“Rocky Mountain National Park and tourism not only affects the economy in Estes Park, but also in Loveland and Boulder and Fort Collins,” Polis said.

The estimated total loss of park closures could be more than $30 million a day across the nation, according to Trubee.

Collegian Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached at news@collegian.com.